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Posts tagged improv tips

Photo © People and Chairs

“You don’t need that much. You don’t have to try so hard. If we look at the most successful scenes, they start off very simply. They’re not overly complicated. They’re not some sort of grand premise. It’s just taking the small things that we’re doing and making them into a fun scene.

It really boils down to paying attention to what you’re doing and what your scene partner is doing, and then investing in it. And then the scene is kind of given to you.

If you take that first 30 seconds of a scene, and really are patient, and you lay the information out and do small things, and make choices each time you either talk or do things, then the other information will come from that stuff. So then you’re not having to invent things; it’s just an expansion of what’s happening.

If you just really invest in those first few seconds of a scene, it’s all there for you. And you don’t have to overthink it. Just go back to being the monkey. Just go back to patting someone on the belly. Just go back to being the exhausted dad in an airplane. Because then you’re saying ‘yes’ to the things you’ve thrown out there, rather than trying to find what the scene’s about. The scene’s about that first moment.

It could be just someone just going ‘Phhhhht…’ That’s it. That’s all you need. That person is exasperated. That’s the scene.

We try to find the ‘best thing’ that the scene can be about, by discarding all these other things, and it’s like no, the scene is about a tired kid and her mom who wants her to go to church. Let’s invest in that and not try to invent anything else. Because things will just come out of your mouths, out of thin air, but they’re not. They’re actually coming from investment in the things you’ve created.”

If you’ve just joined us recently, welcome! Below you’ll find some of our most-read topics to date, so pull up a bentwood chair and enjoy.

Image © People and Chairs

Image © People and Chairs

How-To Posts

Eight Ways To Be Good With The Improv

Eight More Ways To Be Good With The Improv

How To Succeed At Anything by Being Yourself

Audition Tips From The Other Side Of The Table

How To Write A Kickass Performer Bio

Performance Anxiety: How To Dissolve Pre-show Nerves

How Cameron Got Over His Anxiety (And So Can You!)

Harold/Long Form & Scene Work

Openings: The Good, The Bad & The Funny

Somebody Edit This, Please

John Lutz on Keeping It Simple

Enjoy The Silence: Improvising Without Dialogue Part One and Part Two

On Coaches, Chemistry, And Finding Your Dream Team

Specificity: Why Pabst Blue Ribbon Beats Whatever You’re Drinking

All By Myself: Solo Improv

How I Lost Interest In Game Of The Scene And Found Something Way More Fun

Great Guest Posts

12 Tips For Festival Organizers by Amy Shostak

12 Tips For Improvisers Attending Comedy Festivals by Matt Folliott

7 Tips For Surviving An Improv Jam by Laura Bailey

Now’s The Time To Know The New by David Razowsky

How Not To Get Sued (A Guide for Canadian Comedians) by Rob Norman

Never Give Up by Jimmy Carrane

How To Avoid Being A Creep by Conor Bradbury

Improv Community & Insight

For The Love of Art, Pay People

Why Improv Is Good For Business

The Art of Comedy

When “Yes, And” Becomes No

Comedians, Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Random Fun Stuff

Improv Explained In Venn Diagrams

What’s Your Improv Persona?

It’s An Improv Thing

When Improvisers Date

An Illustrated Guide To Improvisers

Improv Forms That Don’t Exist (But Should)

When Ralph Met Becky

Web Series: Inside The Master Class

Stick This In Your Ear: The Improv Podcast Round-up

Video: How To Spot An Improviser

 

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

One of the great reasons to love improv is its fleeting nature. There’s no record of it. It comes, it goes. We’re left with our memories of it. Our memories. It’s a nice gift we let ourselves have. It helps if you like you.

One of the great things about performing improv is that we aren’t able to watch ourselves improvise. We have a vision in our skull of what we look like when we’re in the act of unfolding a character. It helps us unfold and evolve that character, for there’s no evidence as to whether we’re “doing it right” or “doing it wrong.” Because we don’t see it, we give ourselves the opportunity to just create without self-judgment.

That is, until someone does something that puts our process smack dab into our eyes.

When I was the Artistic Director at Second City Los Angeles we had a very small space that was our theatre. Just a black box, a small riser of a stage, and flat black walls. One day our stage manager, all on his own, decided it would be a good idea to put mirrors up on the walls. All the walls. Covered ’em. Now every interaction was brilliantly reflected, every action apparent, every movement mirrored.

I hated it. I’m long gone from that event and I still cringe. When I was on stage living a character that was a beautiful woman, now I could see that I wasn’t. I was me…a man. When I was on stage being a young boy character, now I could see that I wasn’t. I was me…a man. When I was on stage acting all suave Daniel Craig-y, now I could see that I wasn’t. I was me, Jewish David Razowsky.

That mirror invited my ego in, my “self” in. It trumped my imagination, it heavily challenged my suspension of disbelief, it brought “me” in, when I didn’t need “me” to appear, nor to be an arbiter of how I was doing.

Over the years I’ve learned to be mindful, to be in the moment, to give focus to what serves my joy and my scene partner. I’ve learned to stop looking into a mirror, realizing that so often that mirror isn’t literally a mirror, rather it’s a mental reflection where we artists sacrifice the joy of the process for the “thrill” of falling down the rabbit hole of doubt, dancing with judgment and second-guessing. I’ve learned to see the mirror, but not to look into it.

David Razowsky is a master improv instructor. He’s the former Artistic Director of the Second City Training Centre, a co-founder of the Annoyance Theatre, and the host and creative force of ADD Podcast with Dave Razowsky and Ian Foley. He has a long list of celebrity friends, and an equally impressive collection of Bloody Mary photos.

Last year we posted Eight Ways To Be Good With The Improv. Here’s some more.

1. Be willing to fail.

Photo © Adrianne Gagnon

Photo © Adrianne Gagnon

When we’re learning to improvise, we fail constantly. Improv teaches us that mistakes are OK, and life becomes freeing and fun. But after a while, we can start to fall into certain patterns of behaviour.

  • You always go in to first beats with Bob
  • You start every scene by holding an imaginary beer
  • You reference Star Wars at least once every show
  • When all else fails, zere’s always your hilarious Cherman accent, ja?

We repeat these patterns because they’re safe and familiar. Chances are they got laughs in the past. But if you want to grow as an improviser, you need to step outside your comfort zone.

Jump in the deep end. Throw something out there without knowing where it’s going. Get yourself into trouble. When you give yourself permission to fail, you open up new possibilities.

“Fall, then figure out what to do on the way down.” – Del Close

2. Go with your gut.

There are times when performers are so in sync, their responses so lightning-fast, it almost seems supernatural. When we’re truly in the moment, improv is effortless. Like UCB’s motto, we “don’t think.” So what’s doing the thinking for us?

Your brain is designed to filter out information, or else your conscious mind would be overwhelmed. But your subconscious takes it all in.

We make moves based on the information we have. Consciously, we’re usually focused on ourselves and our scene partners. Subconsciously, we’re doing much, much more.

When your subconscious takes in what you’re doing, what your scene partner is doing, what the rest of your team is doing, what the audience is doing, what the person in the booth is doing, what song is playing at the bar, every single scene you’ve ever seen or played, and sends you an idea…you take that damn idea!

3. Slow down.

“If it’s done well, I’ll watch somebody tie their shoe.” – David Pasquesi

Photo © Crista Flodquist

Photo © Crista Flodquist

When the lights go up in Trust Us, This Is All Made Up, TJ and Dave stand silently on stage. No one says anything for a full 14 seconds. Most improvisers would be chewing their hand off by that point, but taking the time to read each other is par for the course for this duo.

Here’s an exercise they teach, which is great for connecting with your scene partner:

Two players stand across from each other. One is the sender, the other is the receiver. The sender tries to communicate their character, their relationship to their scene partner, their want or situation – all without miming or speaking. The receiver then says what they got from the other person’s energy and body language.

The first time Cameron and I did this exercise, TJ asked what I got from Cameron’s character.

“Well, he’s my husband, and he’s about to tell me that he told his boss to stick it, and now he’s been fired.”

Cameron’s eyes widened. “I was her husband, I’d just told my boss to go fuck himself, and I quit!”

(For the record, this was waaaaaaay before he basically did that in real life.)

The next time you walk onstage, take a moment to pause, breathe, and fully check in with your scene partner. You don’t need to rush to be funny.

4. Be here now.

We spend a lot of time in our heads, and not just when we’re improvising. If you’re feeling guilt and shame, you’re thinking about the past. When you feel fear and anxiety, you’re thinking about the future.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re worrying about tonight’s show, stressing about what character to bring next, or feeling bad about that stupid thing you did in fourth grade: now is all that exists.

Know that you have everything you need in this moment. When you bring your focus to what’s in front of you – whether it’s your scene partner or a plate of lasagna – then you’re truly living. (And who cares if you forgot your swim trunks in Grade 4? Underoos are the coolest!)

Of course, like all things, it takes practice. For further reading, we recommend The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron.

5a. Reach out and touch someone.

Have you seen that show, Two People Standing And Talking in a Void? It’s the one where no one touches anyone, physically or emotionally.

If you’re in a scene professing your love to someone, and you’re both standing still two feet apart, move closer. Couples touch. Touch his cheek. Caress her arm. Boop his nose. Hold hands.

Touching is a great way to show you’re humans with emotions. Patting your scene partner on the head, or putting them on your shoulders says a lot about your characters.

5b. Reach out and touch something.

Before a scene starts, the only things that exist on stage are people and chairs (ohhh, that’s where they got the name). After the scene starts, everything exists. Like The Matrix, we just need to declare it.

We learn about ourselves by exploring the world around us. So grab some chairs and make a hot tub, a ferris wheel, or a TARDIS. Reach out and find an object, then use it to define your character. You don’t have to know what you’re reaching for. The joy is in the discovery.

6. Study the masters.

Read Napier and Norman and TJ & Dave. Read interviews, e-books and blogs. Subscribe to podcasts and listen on your way to work.

Most of all, go see live shows. If you live in a big city like New York, Toronto or London, you can see top improvisers almost any night of the week. If you live in a small town, festivals like the Del Close Marathon, Vancouver International Improv Festival, or NC Comedy Arts are a great way to see these people all in one place.

And for a mere ten dollars, you can see TJ and Dave perform at their brand new theater in Chicago. That’s like seeing Simon and Garfunkel in concert at 1965 prices. Heck, if you have to jump on a Greyhound to get there, it’s worth it.

7. Play with people who are better than you. Play with people less experienced than you.

There’s a tendency to stick with the same group of people throughout our career. It might be your Con class, your first Harold team, or any number of other cliques.

Ensembles are great for building trust, but if you feel like you’re in a rut, mix it up a little. (See “Be willing to fail.”)

There are great young performers who are still students. And great veteran performers who are still playful. Don’t be scared to ask one of your heroes if they’d like to perform with you. And if you’re an old pro, do a show with your students. It’s a great reminder to take care of your scene partners, and they might surprise you by how much funnier they are.

8. Have other interests.

We said it before, but it bears repeating. Improv is an incredible gift, but there’s no surer way to suck the well dry than to drain it constantly.

If you’re taking five classes, doing three shows a night, and spending all your free time with other improvisers, it’s time to reassess before you burn out.

The pros know this. In between directing the Second City Mainstage, opening a new theater, and writing a new book, Mick Napier practises card tricks, shoots pool, plays guitar, and builds stuff with erector sets. David Razowsky travels the globe teaching improv, but he also spends time discovering each city, trying new foods, and honing his photography skills.

Enjoy all that improv has to offer, but be sure to make time for other things.

“The more art you bring to your life, the more life you bring to your art.” – David Razowsky

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Editor’s Note: Regarding #3, David Knoell prefers the word “patient” to “slow,” to avoid confusion between having awareness and bringing low energy. David Razowsky prefers “mindful.” These are both great descriptors, so use whatever resonates with you.